Do you know where your pandemic flight credits are?

[This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News]

When the pandemic hit, Vanessa Mumford-Minshull of Campbell, CA scrambled to cancel a multi-leg, multi-airline European trip for four people. She asked for refunds. Airlines automatically issued vouchers. “I sent email saying, ‘I don’t want this,’ but got no answer,” says Mumford-Minshull, who spent days calling, writing, and documenting her efforts before finally getting refund help thanks to her credit card company. “With the vouchers, there were too many unknowns due to COVID-19,” she said, “I could have lost almost $4,000.”

Millions of other travelers who accepted or were issued travel credits or vouchers are pulling the emails out now that a year has gone by, vaccination rates are on the rise, and cities are reopening to visitors. Many hopeful flyers are discovering their credits will expire before they get to use them. Others will find that the vouchers have restrictions that make them difficult to use

Besides dashed travel hopes, there is a great deal of money at stake. Companies still deliberating when to restart non-essential business travel may be sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars of unused travel credits, notes corporate travel management company TripActions. And airlines, which recently received billions of dollars in a third round of federal pandemic funding relief,  are holding billions in unused vouchers.

“I can say with confidence there are more outstanding travel vouchers right now than have existed ever before, given the number of trips that got disrupted simultaneously because of the pandemic,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

What to do to if you have pandemic travel credit or flight vouchers

If you accepted or received airline travel credits or vouchers for a trip canceled due the pandemic, experts say check the expiration dates right away and start reading the fine print. If the expiration date has not passed and you do not have travel plans just yet, call and ask the airline to extend the date. (It is worth a try even if the expiration date has just passed). Given the Centers for Disease Control’s advice to continue avoiding non-essential travel and shifting COVID-19 hotspots, airlines may be willing to do this.

“For those consumers who have unused vouchers, it’s critical that they stay on top of this and be aware of the expiration dates,” says William McGee, Aviation Adviser to Consumer Reports, which logged more 700 consumer complaints and stories about vouchers and refunds in less than a week.

To try to help travelers figure out their options, McGee says he did a deep dive into policies being offered by ten U.S. carriers and found that the best and most transparent policy was from Allegiant Air, which set the expiration for its travel vouchers at two years from the initial date of purchase. He says other policies “are confusing, and the expirations can vary greatly based on date of booking, date of travel, date of cancellation,” and other factors.

Here are links to the current rules and policies of Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines. You will notice for example, that American Airlines has 3 types of travel credit – Flight Credit, Travel Vouchers, and Trip Credit – and that United Airlines’ travel certificates are now good for up to two years after the date they were issued.

Some other tips to keep in mind

While you should be able to use your travel credits or vouchers to book the same or a different itinerary, you will be shopping for your new tickets at new prices. And, as travel picks up and pent-up demand for travel increases, you may need to throw extra money in the pot to get the flights you want.

If you know where you want to go but are not sure when you will feel comfortable flying, the experts at Scott’s Cheap Travel suggests you use your travel credits to book a flight on an airline that is still offering free changes on all fares. “While you’ll have to pay the difference if the fare rises, “you’ll be able to change dates without an extra fee and you won’t lose the value of your voucher.”

Beyond that, “our biggest advice,” says McGee of Consumer Reports, “is to stay persistent.” This was Consumer Reports’ advice last year when advising consumers about airline refunds at the start of the pandemic and the same holds true with vouchers a year in, says McGee. “It may take four or five or even more emails, calls, and letters,” but the success stories come from those who are persistent. 

Frontier Airlines Tales of Tails

Like many other carriers, Frontier Airlines recently changed its policy regarding emotional support animals flying inside the plane: they are no longer welcome.

But a growing menagerie of animals continues to adorn the tails of all Frontier Airlines planes.

There are land animals, such as Al the Roadrunner.

Endangered species, such as Hugh the Manatee.

Sky Animals, such as Betty the Bluebird.

And aquatic animals, such as Shelly the Sea Turtle.

 It is fun to spot the animal tails at the airport. But because there are more than 100 airplanes in the Frontier fleet, you might never see them all.

And certainly not all in one place.

So, we are pleased to see that Frontier now has a webpage that features every Frontier plane tail and the animal that adorns it

The site includes a picture of each plane tail and tells a little bit about the animal that adorns it. And – avgeek alert – each animal’s webpage includes information about the aircraft as well, including the plane model, registration, seating capacity, engine type, the date of the first flight, and the final assembly location.

The airline is planning to add more features to the site, including downloadable coloring pages and activities, a page devoted to retired animals, and photos.

Do you have a favorite Frontier Airlines animal tail?

Holiday shopping in the British Airways crockery closet

Food not included…

Are you a fan of British Airways?

The airline knows that many people are yearning for something – anything – to remind them of the excitement of flying somewhere on a plane.

So the airline is feeding that hunger by putting some of its unneeded in-flight service items on sale. Just in time for holiday shopping.

What’s up for sale?

Plates, soup bowls, butter plates, champagne flutes, blankets, bread baskets, and other meal service items as well as collectors’ items from the airline’s retired Boeing 747 aircraft.

The British Airways items for sale are listed – by cabin – on a special page of the WhataBuy site.

These pictures make all the items look very appealing. But keep in mind: food is not included.

And while those little bread baskets are cute, we’ve got our hearts set on a British Airways bar trolley that was used on a Boeing 747. The price? About $266.00.

Don’t want to fly? Links to cancel/change policies of U.S. airlines

The coronavirus outbreak is wreaking havoc worldwide with health, business and travel.

The health part is head-spinning, as more people are being diagnosed with the virus and the reported death toll is rising.

If you’re not sick and need to travel somewhere for work, to be with family or for a long-planned vacation, you may out of luck.

Airlines worldwide are announcing what they say are temporary reductions in flight schedules.

And for those who decide they don’t want to fly, airlines are offering refunds and offering to waive the fees on changes and cancelations.

With conditions. Of course.

Here are links to the some of the current policies of major U.S. airlines.

We gathered this information on March 10 and the applicable dates and offers are likely to shift over the next days and weeks.

Be sure to read the details on the airline website closely and check back if your flight situation isn’t yet covered.

Alaska Airlines – The Seattle-based airline is offering no change or cancellation fees on travel through March 31, 2010, regardless of the date the ticket was purchased. And no change or cancellation fees on new tickets purchased between February 27, 2020 and March 31, 2020.

American Airlines – The airline is offering to waive change fees for tickets purchased before March 1 for travel through April 30.

Delta Air Lines – Delta is waiving change fees for travelers with tickets to both international and domestic destinations through April 30 if the ticket was issued on or before March 9, as well as for tickets purchased from March 1- March 30.

Frontier – No change/cancel fees will be charged for changes to tickets issued before March 10, 2020 for travel between March 10 and April 30, 2020 or for tickets purchased March 10 through March 31, 2020. Contact Frontier at 801-401-9000.

JetBlue – JetBlue is waiving change and cancel fees for customers traveling March 10, 2020 through April 30, 2020. Change and cancel fees are also suspended for new flight bookings made through March 31, 2020 for travel through September 8, 2020.

Southwest Airlines – The airline does not charge change or cancelation fees. If you cancel at least 10 minutes before your scheduled departure, you can apply the full amount of your ticket to future travel.

Spirit Airlines – The airline is allowing travelers to make a free one-time change to their ticket (fare difference will apply) and if offering refund credit to be used for a booking made within six months.

United Airlines – The airline is waiving change fees for all domestic or international tickets purchased on or before March 2 for travel dates through April 30. New tickets purchased through March 31, 2020 can be changed for free during the next 12 months.

Travel Tidbits: New gate numbers, new flights

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has a new, easier to understand gate numbering system.           

Previously, there was a continuous numbering system across all terminals and concourses, from 1 to 102.

The new gate numbering system breaks it down to specific concourses within each terminal.

Here’s a handy video to help explain how it works:

New flights!

Photo courtesy of COA Aviation.

Norwegian Air now flies twice-weekly service from San Francisco Int’l Airport to both Paris, France (CDG) and to Barcelona, Spain (BCN).

Flights operate on a 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

Beginning October 29, United Airlines starts service from SFO to Melbourne, Australia (MEL) three times per week. And on December 5, United kicks off daily service to Delhi, India (DEL) from SFO as well. Both flights will operate on Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft.

Air New Zealand will offer nonstop service three times a week between Newark, NJ (EWR) and Auckland, New Zealand starting in October 2020.

Air New Zealand will operate the year-round flight with a newly configurated Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft.

Flight time will be approximately 17 hours and 40 minutes southbound and 15 hours 40 minutes northbound.

When this new flight starts, ANZ will end its iconic daily Los Angeles-London service that has been in operation since 1982.

The decision has to do with increased competition in the market:

“Preferences have changed,” said Air New Zealand Acting Chief Executive Officer Jeff McDowall, “Less than seven percent of all airline travelers between Auckland and London chose to fly via Los Angeles last year.”